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21
Sep

Engadget giveaway: Win an Optoma UHD60 4K projector!


If you’re planning a new home theater setup, 4K resolution and HDR color processing are definitely where you should be heading. You’ll also want to maximize your screen real estate to enjoy it all, but many people don’t have room in their layout for big sets or prefer less hardware clutter. That’s where projectors like Optoma’s high-performing UHD60 really fit the bill. It was the first 4K projector under $2,000 when it arrived a few months ago and uses an improved method over much of the competition to achieve that resolution.

The unit can be ceiling mounted and offers a display size of up to 300 inches. Ports include USB (convenient for charging streaming dongles) HDMI, HDCP 2.2, S/PDIF and more. The output is 3,000 lumens of brightness and even standard dynamic range content can be upscaled to HDR here. This week, Optoma has provided us with one of its UHD60 projections for one lucky reader, so they can sample the company’s image processing for deep blacks and crisp details. If you’d like the freedom and immersion that this type of 4K display provides, head down to the Rafflecopter widget below for up to three chances at winning an Optoma UHD60 projector!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • Entries are handled through the Rafflecopter widget above. Comments are no longer accepted as valid methods of entry. You may enter without any obligation to social media accounts, though we may offer them as opportunities for extra entries. Your email address is required so we can get in touch with you if you win, but it will not be given to third parties.
  • Contest is open to all residents of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec), 18 or older! Sorry, we don’t make this rule (we hate excluding anyone), so direct your anger at our lawyers and contest laws if you have to be mad.
  • Winners will be chosen randomly. One (1) winner will receive one (1) Optoma UHD60 4K projector ($1,999 value).
  • If you are chosen, you will be notified by email. Winners must respond within three days of being contacted. If you do not respond within that period, another winner will be chosen. Make sure that the account you use to enter the contest includes your real name and a contact email. We do not track any of this information for marketing or third-party purposes.
  • This unit is purely for promotional giveaway. Engadget and AOL are not held liable to honor warranties, exchanges or customer service.
  • The full list of rules, in all of its legalese glory, can be found here.
  • Entries can be submitted until September 22nd at 11:59PM ET. Good luck!
21
Sep

CCleaner malware had a specific target: tech titans


The malware that hackers inserted into legit downloads of popular PC-cleaning software CCleaner wasn’t harmless after all. According to Cisco’s Talos security division, it had specific targets: at least 20 tech titans, including Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Sony, HTC, Linksys, D-Link, and Cisco itself. Based on the data they got from someone involved in the CCleaner investigation, the Talos researchers have discovered that the attackers’ main goal was to infect computers inside those companies’ networks. The original malware was merely used to deliver a second malware, which can insert itself deeper into the system.

According to the Talos researchers, the info they got from their source included evidence that the hackers looked through their database of hacked machines to find PCs connected to those companies’ networks. While they didn’t reveal which corporations got infected, they said 50 percent of the hackers’ attempts at installing the secondary malware was successful. That doesn’t mean 10 out of the 20 fell victim to the malware, though: some of the tech giants got infected twice, while others weren’t affected at all.

Now that the team has discovered the malware’s true nature, they don’t think it was deployed simply to install keyloggers or ransomware on random people’s computers. They believe it was created for industrial espionage, a way to steal valuable secrets from some of the world’s biggest tech giants. They even found some code associated with known hacking team Group 72 or Axiom, which is believed to be a Chinese government operation. However, the researchers still can’t say for certain whether this particular attack was perpetrated by Group 72.

Avast, the company that owns CCleaner, has confirmed the second payload’s existence after an investigation by its own researchers. It advises the software’s individual users to upgrade to its latest version and to use an anti-virus products. Corporate users will have to go further than that: since the malware might have targeted more than 20 companies, Cisco recommends restoring PCs using backup made before CCleaner was installed.

Via: Wired

Source: Cisco Talos, Avast

21
Sep

UK lifeboat crew tests drones as search and rescue helpers


Drones are becoming an important part of the emergency services. Police are using them to search for missing people, while fire departments test them as a tool to survey dangerous sites. Until now, however, we haven’t seen or heard about them being used by the coastguard. That all changes today, however, as a lifeboat service in Norfolk, England, has started using them in open water. As the BBC reports, they’re equipped with cameras that can live-stream footage to monitors inside the boat. They could prove useful in choppy conditions when the crew can’t see above the waves.

“Normally you’re at sea level trying to look out from the lifeboat,” Peter King, a drone expert helping the lifeboat team told the BBC. “The swell is above the boat so you have to wait until you’re on the crest of a wave, and they might be in a trough. They might be 20 meters away and you still can’t find them.” In treacherous weather, some lifeboat crews can use helicopters for search and rescue. Drones, of course, are a cheaper alternative, though their size makes them susceptible to strong winds.

Lifeboat service at Caister trial drones

The drones are currently in a testing phase. According to the BBC, the lifeboat crew is in discussion with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) about using them full-time in the ocean. At the moment, UK laws require that every pilot keep direct, unaided visual contact with their drone. That roughly equates to 400 feet (122 metres) vertically and 500 metres horizontally. In the water, however, there are times when the team might want to fly the drones further out. “In the past,” King told the BBC, “there have been instances where we have been unsuccessful when searching for someone in need of help. Perhaps if we had been equipped with the drone technology, these searches would have had a positive outcome.”

Via: BBC News, Huffington Post UK

21
Sep

Twitter will also be at the Senate’s Russia hearings


Social media played a huge part in determining the outcome of the 2016 election, and there’s a suspicion that the ad-tracking tools those platforms offer could have been hijacked by nefarious forces. Shortly after news broke that Facebook will appear before a Senate hearing into Russian interference, Wired is reporting that Twitter will do the same.

A spokesperson for the platform said that it “engages with governments around the world,” and that it is “cooperating with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.” They added that Twitter believes in the integrity of the electoral process, and has pledged to harden its platform against “bots and other forms of manipulation.”

It’s likely that both companies will have a testy time of it, and Facebook has recently revealed that $100,000 of ads were tied in to disinformation campaigns. Twitter, meanwhile, has struggled to deal with fake accounts that amplify propaganda, giving it weight it wouldn’t otherwise have. Both rely upon algorithms and automated systems to catch such activity, and it’s clear that those systems have failed.

Source: Wired

21
Sep

Royole’s ‘personal cinema’ headset carries a heavy premium


VR’s not-so-meteoric rise has also revived interest in that most sci-fi of concepts: the personal cinema. A head-mounted display that lets you immerse yourself in a movie, blocking out the distractions of modern life. No matter if you’re on a plane or train, you can pretend that you have your very own screening room, like presidents, billionaires and Hugh Hefner. The latest entrant into that world is Royole, a company that doesn’t have a storied history in consumer devices, instead producing flexible, super-thin AMOLED displays for businesses. It hopes to use its know-how to out-do rival headsets, like Avegant and Sony, which have both offered similar hardware in the past. But how does Royole’s Moon compare to those other devices, and is it really the future of cinema?

The short answer is no, but that’s not to say that Royole’s headset is a total dud.

For instance, the hardware has been designed to scream premium product from every pore. The black edition has gold accents on the headphone arms and earcups, with everything else clad in a supple brown leather. Don’t be surprised if this device pops up on the front cover of every high-end department store catalog this holiday season.

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Build quality, too, is of a level that you’d expect for a product setting you back $800: The arms and visor are all pretty sturdy. Fundamentally, you could — and should — expect this device to give you years of service without fuss. But, and it’s a big but, the Moon is sturdy, not rugged, and that’s a problem that blunts much of its utility.

I’ve been burned one too many times when it comes to taking expensive Bluetooth headphones with me on long trips. Despite keeping them in their approved velvet bag and placing them gently at the top of my backpack, they always, inevitably, break. It makes me reluctant to take an $800 personal cinema with me on a trip knowing that they could, very quickly, turn into a pricey ornament.

But that doesn’t mean that the Moon wouldn’t be a fantastic personal cinema for those who spend most of their days indoors. Much like Avegant’s headset, the Moon has built-in corrective lenses that can ensure you don’t need to awkwardly tuck your glasses inside it. The lenses can both be shifted to meet your eye line and twisted to suit your needs, so long as you’re between -7.0 diopter nearsightedness and +2.0 farsightedness.

The audio, meanwhile, is exclusively delivered through the Moon’s built-in headphones that come packing active noise cancellation. An obvious downside is that they’re on-ears, which means that you have to deal with the associated discomfort — if you feel such a thing. Your mileage may vary, but having your ears pinned back for hours at a time isn’t a great way to spend an evening at the cinema.

On the upside, the sound quality is amazing, with crystal-clear audio that has ruined at least one film for me. I watched L.A. Confidential in the headset, and only then did I hear that several lines, early on, were re-recorded later on. It’s only because you can hear the room tone fade and the dialog pop up unnaturally that you can notice it. But I’ve never noticed it when watching with regular headphones or on my TV’s sound bar.

As for picture quality, the two 1080p AMOLED displays are bright and crisp, and when you find a comfortable position to seat the device, you feel as if you are staring at an 800-inch screen. Kinda. It’s hard to shake the notion that you’re not really getting the detail and scale afforded by such a cinema size. At least not when you’ve got a device strapped to your face that’s essentially a smartphone but much, much closer. It’s worth mentioning, too, that the device can play 3D movies, and the test clips are all pretty good, although the 3D fad is going as fast as it came.

It’s probably a good time to talk about the discomfort that you’re gonna feel wearing these, which isn’t limited to the headphones. The Oculus Rift weighs in at around 480 grams, while the HTC Vive is closer to 555 grams, making both pretty heavy. The Royole, however, comes in closer to 700 grams, all of which is being supported by the headphone strap and the bridge of your nose. The company advises that you push the head strap forward to take the weight of the visor, and it works, but only up to a point.

I have a theory that VR headsets feel a little lighter than their actual weight when in use, because you use them actively. After all, your head is often turning around in the virtual environment as you explore, and you’re using your neck muscles more. Sitting passively, watching a movie as if you were in a cinema, means that you’re not in motion, and so the weight is more obvious than it would be otherwise.

There’s one other comfort issue, which is that using the Moon can get pretty hot, even on a cold fall evening. Settling down to watch a movie on DVD piped through the device’s bundled HDMI adapter cable, I found that, half an hour in, my face was wet with sweat and the lenses were fogging up. Your humble narrator is a little on the hefty size, so your mileage may vary, but I doubt many would use the device’s five-hour battery life to exhaustion in one sitting.

Another bugbear that you find with devices like this is the amount of effort your eyes make to keep focusing on the screen. Something about the proximity of the display to your face — even with the corrective lenses — forces my eyes, at least, to constantly have to focus on things. Which means that after a while, eye-strain is another reason that you’d probably not want to spend a whole flight inside one of these.

On the right earcup is the control panel, a Parrot Zik-esque tactile pad that recognizes up, down, left and right swipes as well as taps. Immediately above it, in the housing, is the volume control, where you draw your finger back and forwards to control the sound. On the left earcup is the three-feet-ish long USB-C cable that runs into what the company is elegantly calling the Box, which is, essentially, a screenless Android smartphone that includes both the battery for the headset and the software to run it.

Once booted up, it takes you into the viewer menu which lets you either access your library of movies, YouTube, the online streaming service of your choice or the web browser. Without the companion app for your phone, each one is an exercise in a lot of swiping and tapping to reach your intended destination. Then, it’s just like you’re using any other video player, except one that’s — you know — strapped to your face.

The idea behind the Royole Moon is to create a personal cinema that takes you away from the outside world for hours at a time. But the device’s weight and heat mean that, at best, you can get half an hour inside one before you need a break. There is, however, more crucial issue that needs to be addressed, which is the question of what actually this piece of hardware is for?

natechair.jpgMove your couch even closer to the screen.

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Most devices have a fairly obvious USP and target audience, but the Royole Moon feels more like a tech demo for the company’s AMOLED screens. Because in every context you try to place it in, there are plenty of other methods that work so much better and cost so much less. The Moon’s high price precludes everyone but the wealthiest taking this on long journeys without fear of damage. And if you’re dropping $800 on gear like this, you’re probably better off enjoying the real-world delights of business class.

If you’re an AV geek who wants to recreate the experience of a cinema at home, there are better alternatives. For this sort of cash, you can get a good 50-inch TV with decent sound and just move your couch closer to the screen. Hell, a projector and screen won’t cost much more, and would offer a much more effective experience than foggy lenses.

I did think that, perhaps, it’s for kids who want to game in the living room without hogging the family TV, but the same issues are prevalent. It’s too delicate and expensive for sticky-fingered teens when an off-brand TV and wireless headphones could do a similar job. Which is basically the same line for everything else — it’s nice, and well-built, but who would ever think to buy one?

21
Sep

Synthetic muscle breakthrough could lead to ‘lifelike’ robots


A breakthrough in soft robotics means scientists are now one step closer to creating lifelike machines. Researchers at Columbia Engineering have developed a 3D printed synthetic tissue that can act as active muscle. The material, which can push, pull, bend, and twist (thanks to its use of silicon rubber and ethanol-dispensing micro-bubbles) is also capable of carrying 1,000 times its own weight. Not only could the invention result in super-strong machines (like a Terminator that works in manufacturing), but it will also release soft robots from their current shackles.

You see, synthetic muscle tech is presently reliant on tethered external compressors or high voltage equipment. But, robots fitted with this new tissue could theoretically be freed up to move around like humans, enabling them to better grip and pick up objects. Which is a big deal, because the plan is to eventually get these bots to help with non-invasive surgeries and to care for the elderly — among other tasks.

The researchers are touting the material as the first synthetic muscle that can withstand both high-actuation stress and high strain. “We’ve been making great strides toward making robots minds, but robot bodies are still primitive,” said lead scientist Hod Lipson. “This is a big piece of the puzzle and, like biology, the new actuator can be shaped and reshaped a thousand ways. We’ve overcome one of the final barriers to making lifelike robots.”

After 3D printing it into the desired shape, the team electrically actuated the artificial muscle using a thin resistive wire and low-power (8V). They then tested it in a variety of robotic applications, where it demonstrated significant expansion-contraction ability. The researchers claim the synthetic tissue is also capable of expanding up to 900 percent when electrically heated to 80°C.

Building on their initial findings, the team plans to incorporate conductive materials to replace the need for the connecting wire. Further down the line, they intend to combine it with artificial intelligence that can learn to control the muscle, resulting in (they hope) “natural” movement.

Source: Columbia Engineering

21
Sep

London Costcutter trials finger-vein readers for faster payments


The humble Costcutter supermarket at Brunel University in London has recently become home to a biometric payment system that allows customers to check out with a tap of their finger. The store’s owner has begun trialling Sthaler’s Fingopay system, which authenticates people by looking at the 3D pattern of veins beneath their fingertip — one of the most unique identifiers around — rather than their fingerprint.

The vein identification tech originally comes from Hitachi, and has been used by Barclays business customers for a few years now — elsewhere in the world, it’s employed in all kind of scenarios where robust authentication is necessary. Fingopay specifically was piloted at a Camden bar earlier this year, but makes its retail store debut at the Brunel Uni Costcutter. Visitors pair a debit or credit card with their vein profile once and only need to use their finger to pay for purchses thereafter.

The Costcutter group says it might consider rolling the system out more widely, and Sthaler says it’s in “serious talks” with other supermarkets, too. We’d argue the likelihood of the Fingopay system hitting your local Tesco in the near future is pretty slim though, considering many supermarkets have only come round to contactless payments in the past couple of years.

Fingopay isn’t really that much more convenient than pulling out your smartphone or contactless card, but it could be a sign of things to come. Amazon is testing out retail “Go” stores that track you and what you’re putting in your basket, charging you automatically when you stroll out the door with your haul. There are several tech concepts aiming to make the checkout process as convenient as possible, and when we finally arrive at a best-fit solution, biometrics will likely part a play.

Via: BBC

Source: Costcutter group, Sthaler

21
Sep

What if the Google-HTC deal is actually about voice assistants?


The news is out: HTC and Google have finally consummated their ages-long flirtation with one another. In exchange for $1.1 billion in cash, HTC will hand over 2,000 employees to the search giant. These are the people that formed the bulk of the Taiwanese company’s “Powered by HTC” division, the R&D team responsible for building handsets like the Pixel.

As a result, HTC’s R&D division has shrunk in half — right now it employs 4,000 — and the company has earned just over a billion dollars in the process. The deal does have some other facets, like Google getting a non-exclusive license to use HTC’s intellectual property. But, fundamentally, the search giant now has plenty of minds to staff its Taiwan offices, and HTC’s ostensibly smaller and wealthier.

But the mechanics of the deal are puzzling, especially since HTC has pledged to continue making phones under its own name. The reason it made for such easy pickings is that there’s little profit to be made building smartphones unless you’re Apple or Samsung. And it has had a run of nine successive quarters where it has made some pretty substantial losses. The $1.1 billion cash injection aside, HTC is persisting with a business we’re all fairly certain is moribund.

Not to mention that, now, HTC will have a huge proportion of its current employees working for a rival handset maker. However you want to characterize the deal, this is about Google pushing its own hardware ambitions. What will prompt purists to buy HTC’s next flagship handset if, for instance, a similarly-priced Pixel 3 does everything just as well?

We’ve been wildly theorizing, and it’s just possible that HTC might have played the bad hand that it was dealt pretty well. It’s managed to come out of this with a billion dollars, two thousand fewer employees and the freedom that comes with being one of Google’s closest friends. But for this to make sense, you need to remember that the company bundled the U11 with a voice assistant: Amazon’s Alexa.

Google, as you know, has plenty of ambitions in the artificial intelligence / smart assistant space with its own Assistant. It forms an increasingly large part of its home products strategy, and there is a constant push to make Assistant ubiquitous across Google’s platforms. Standing in its way, however, are rival offerings from Samsung, Apple, Microsoft and, crucially, Amazon. It’s the latter that may be the most troubling, since it is being included on a whole lot of smart devices.

The fact that you can get Alexa on HTC, Huawei and (kinda) Lenovo devices must, surely, trouble Google — and that brings us to the tactics playbook that Google used back in 2011 when it needed to bring Samsung in line. Back then, Google bought Motorola for $12.5 billion, and one of the reasons — or theories — as to why it did, was to bring Samsung to heel. At the time, the Korean giant was pushing Google, and Android, to the sidelines of its own ecosystem.

Android had been skinned into oblivion with TouchWiz, and Samsung was looking for a way to make Tizen its primary operating system. But, the company was vulnerable to the patent wars that were raging on at the time. So, Google bought Motorola and, with patent leverage on its side, hassled Samsung to row back on TouchWiz and generally fall back in love with Android.

A few years later, and Samsung is rather nakedly demonstrating its ambitions to keep Google from becoming too powerful once again. Samsung has launched its own smart assistant platform, Bixby, and has even added a hardware button to trigger it on its Galaxy S8 flagship. Bixby is currently described as little more than “structural bloatware,” but it’s likely to get better, and fast.

Power users, angered over the decision, have demanded that Samsung let them assign the button to other duties. But we know all too well that many people are happy with the defaults their device provides. And if all of those casual users are railroaded into using Bixby over Assistant, then it can’t help but improve.

Then there is Amazon’s inroads into the home space with its Alexa-powered Echo devices, which are now available on plenty of third-party speakers. Google has eyes on dominating the spaces in our home that smartphones can’t touch, but Amazon’s proving to be a persistent menace. Microsoft, meanwhile, jumped into bed with Amazon to connect the Cortana voice assistant to Alexa. Commentators have described the partnership as a “coalition of weaklings,” but it’s a coalition that doesn’t favor Google.

In the face of serious competition, what is Google to do? It can’t attack Samsung directly, and it also can’t make obvious efforts to block Alexa integration with other Android manufacturers. But by strengthening the relationship between Google and HTC, it’s likely that you won’t find Alexa on their future handsets.

Given how quickly Motorola was sold on after that deal, it’s impossible to say how serious Google is about this latest apparent hardware push. But this partial acquisition sends a statement that the company is at least serious about making sure its services are front-and-center on Android phones.

Will Samsung, currently reeling from the negative reaction toward Bixby, be cowed into ceding the AI race? Probably not, but other mobile competitors like Huawei, which included Alexa on its Mate 9 phone, may think twice. Manufacturers will likely want to stay on Google’s good side.

21
Sep

Roku reportedly has a 4K streaming stick on tap for this fall


Roku’s getting ready for a new round of hardware updates this fall (we’ve previously reported on their interest in a smart speaker), and we have some news on what may be coming. According to Zats Not Funny, Roku will unveil a 4K HDR streaming stick with a newly designed universal remote. Currently, only Roku boxes (Premiere, Premiere+ and Ultra) support 4K.

The new stick (called the 4K HDR Roku Streaming Stick+) will be a mid-range device and be elongated, rather than in a dongle form. The universal remote it’s paired with will allow you to control your TV, incorporating both power buttons and a volume rocker. Zats Not Funny speculates that the remote will use HDMI-CEC, rather than traditional IR. It will be included with a few other 2017 Roku models as well.

Source: Zats Not Funny

21
Sep

Facebook’s ‘M’ AI assistant will help you choose a movie


Facebook had grand plans for its in-Messenger AI assistant, M, when it was launched in 2015. While the service hasn’t quite yet lived up to the hype, the company is continually rolling out new features in a bid to make using it a fun experience, and to make it easier to get things done. From today, users in the US will see three new suggestions when using the app.

First up, GIF suggestions. If you’re in a group or one-to-one conversation and type a common expression such as “I love you” or “thanks”, a GIF picker bar will appear, automatically showing GIFs that correspond to that phrase. It’s a fun addition. M suggestions for quick replies is a bit more useful. If you’re asked a straightforward yes/no question in a one-to-one chat, the function offers quick reply options “yes”, “no” or “I think so”. Which is helpful if you’re trying to make plans but can’t dedicate real time to looking at your phone.

Finally, there’s M suggestions for Fandango’s new chat extension. If someone in your chat suggests seeing a movie, M will suggest you open the chat extension to find a film, watch a trailer or look up show times, which can then be shared back to the chat with a simple tap. You’ll also be able to buy tickets directly inside Messenger, a function that aligns the service with Facebook’s original M aspirations. M is AI-powered, so the more you use it, the better it’ll learn how to help. But if you get bored of the GIFs, it’s easy to mute the service, too.

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